Parents prepare their children for a lot of things. When kids are young, parents set them up with the tools they need to be confident and successful for all their firsts. First word. First step. First day of school. As kids grow older, parents reinforce the fundamentals of basic life skills. Pick up after yourself. Be kind. Work hard. Make good choices. Don’t eat the entire bag of Doritos. And when they are seniors in high school, parents prepare them for some of life's most memorable moments; prom and graduation. These two events unofficially transition teenagers into young adults, and the way parents perceive their kids might covertly transition too. As kids get older it is normal to give them more freedom and to be more accepting of adult-like behavior. Driving and working are two of the most common adult-like responsibilities that parents encourage their kids to do as they get older. In addition, parents of a junior or senior in high school might feel it is normal to be more accepting of their child's occasional alcohol and marijuana use, especially during times of celebration, such as prom and graduation. However, it is more important than ever during these high-risk times to reinforce the significance of their health, safety, and future. Parents have an extremely important role during these events; while it is necessary for parents to continue to embrace the freedoms and rights that children earn as they grow older, it is paramount that they establish boundaries that are appropriate for their age and development.
Don’t know where to start? That’s okay! We are here to help with tips and guidelines for you to use as you prepare yourself for preparing your teen/young adult for another big step.
1. They are still growing. Teens may look like adults on the outside, but their brains are still developing which can limit their ability to make sound decisions, judgments, and plan ahead consistently. That is why our job as parents isn’t over.
2. Talk. It’s important. Talking to your kid about drugs and alcohol is the first step in establishing healthy behaviors. Create and communicate clear expectations for your kid (curfew, no underage drinking, no underage drug use, no riding in a vehicle with someone who is under the influence, etc.) Children whose parents tell them about the risks of drug misuse are 50% less likely to use drugs.
3. Host with the Most. Offer to host after-prom or after-graduation events. Provide alcohol-free and drug-free activities and games that promote fun and offer entertainment in healthy ways (karaoke, swimming, dancing, lawn games, etc.).
4. Know where. Know when. Know who. If your child is planning on going to an after-party, know where they are going, know when they are planning to get there, how late they plan to stay, and who they are planning to be with, and establish a plan for safe rides to and from the party. Motor vehicle fatality is the leading cause of death in teenagers, representing over one-third of all deaths, and about a quarter of those crashes involve an underage drinking driver.
5. Be prepared. Plan for things not going as planned. Is there another way home if the designated driver is unable to drive? Is there a code word/phrase for when your kid needs to get out of a sticky situation but cannot explain exactly what is going on (“Mom I forgot to feed the dog” = “get me out of here”)? Are you prepared if your kid comes home drunk or high?
6. Take a deep breath. It is natural for parents to worry about their kids, especially as they get older and start doing more things on their own. Focus on the positive things you and your child have to look forward to and work together to make fun plans to celebrate safely.